For all it’s flaws, True Detective s2 still inspired the odd involuntary jaw drop…
Dir: Justin Lin & Janus Metz
Original Release Date: 28 June / 5 July 2015
Unless you were living under a rock this past summer, you almost certainly witnessed the critical beat down laid upon the second season of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective. Such dissatisfaction, also vented by the show’s fans, increased to the extent that, by the time the finale rolled around, the show was left bloody and, to some, almost unrecognisable. Velcoro and Semyon would be proud to have carried out such a beating. In reality however, these characters – including Vince Vaughn’s portrayal of the latter – came in for just as much criticism as the shows inconsistent direction and Pizzolatto’s (for the most part) untamed, uninspired, ultimately flat writing.
It certainly wasn’t all bad news, though. Now that the dust has settled five months on, it’s a good time to look back on some of the scenes that, however briefly, managed to suck you into that world of time-stopping suspense and giddy mayhem that became a never-ending staple of our time spent alongside Rust and Hart throughout season one. One sequence in particular I knew would inevitably find its way into ILT’s SceneKid series immediately upon viewing is not only one of those television moments we sacrifice so much of our lives for, but also easily my favourite scene of the entire season…
Spanning the finale of e02 and teaser of e03, Ray Velcoro’s apparent murder and subsequent flirtation with the afterlife combine to demonstrate the high points Pizzolatto and his creation are more than capable of producing. Our lead character’s encounter with the giant shotgun-wielding raven of doom was the moment the series felt like True Detective for the first time. Although later revealed to be Lenny Osterman, the illegitimate son of the man driving the plot from beyond the grave, Ben Caspere, at this time our raven friend’s identify remains concealed. The instant he executes Velcoro from point blank range, having blown him across the room only seconds before, questions are raised and jumped up fan theories presented aplenty. Who is the chap in the mask? How did he know Velcoro would be there? Was Velcoro set up? Or was it just a coincidence? Was that the stolen car from the film set parked outside? What does that mean? And, of course, is Colin Farrell fucking dead!? It’s a two-minute mind-fuck that, to be honest, rendered the whole season worth my while.
As with the finest moments in season one, every aspect of the scene, whether narrative or technical, is finely designed and perfectly delivered. Ironically, one of Pizzolatto’s best pieces of writing involves no dialogue whatsoever. Instead, Bobby Bland’s blues tinged wail carries the scene, with the lyrics to his ‘I Pity the Fool’ proving an inspired choice. As the raven stands over Velcoro, ready to fire the supposed kill shot, Bland cries out “Just standing there / Watching you make a fool of me”. This had me going nuts at the time. Whilst most folk who picked up on the track likely noted that it was Velcoro being stood over, and literally made a fool of, I was utterly convinced that these words were aimed at the audience. After all, the entire promotional campaign for season two had featured Colin Farrell as the lead, no doubt set to continue until the final episode was said and done. Faced with the possibility of him being killed off after only two episodes as part of some fucked up, completely maverick plot twist by Pizzolatto and co. was so overwhelmingly compelling that I all but convinced myself it just might be true. Director Justin Lin and his editing team successfully aided such a thought process by ratcheting up both the music, and, as a result, the tension prior to the shooting, after which, for added dramatic effect, it can clearly be seen that Velcoro is lacking a bulletproof vest). Equally marvellous was Lin’s decision to cut not to black, but to the lingering shadows of night outside the house, the camera slowly creeping away from proceedings, allowing an extra crucial second or two for what just happened to sink in.
Persisting with the already firmly established True Detective tradition of soundtrack and score being utilised in consistently glorious fashion; the picked-up-where-it-left-off opening of e03 leaves us stranded in the cheap, smoky, wig-wearing trance of Velcoro’s desperate, Conway Twitty-filled nightmare. As he speaks with the projection of a man revealed to be his father, dark themes embedded in the unstable past of Velcoro’s character attempt to emerge (Twitty’s commentary on the pain and hardship of love being one of them), only for Pizzolatto to whip the rug from under both themes and audience with some not-even-remotely-subtle foreshadowing. While Velcoro senior’s lamentation of what he perceives to be the true manner of Ray’s death proves, of course, to be correct come the season finale, we, the viewers, are so wrapped up in waiting to see whether or not Ray is alive right then and there that such a key line is lost within the mythical dreamlike gateway to hell that is Semyon’s godforsaken underground watering hole. Pizzolatto dangles Velcoro’s tragic ending right in front of our noses, only to surround it in a slew of masterful misdirection, culminating in a return to reality, as Twitty blares from the radio in Caspere’s house, and the camera once again creeps – this time forward – toward a finally conscious Velcoro.
And with that, my dream of witnessing one of the most fantastic, outright ballsy twists in recent television history was gone, along with the intrigue and quality of the season as a whole. Still, that week between episodes two and three, during which I was allowed to at least believe and damn well hope it had happened, was the definition of a top television cliffhanger, dripping in classic Pizzolatto tension. Have faith folks. If season three goes ahead, he’s got this. Maybe. Hopefully.
See also, SceneKid#1: The Monster at the End of the Dream (True Detective s01 e03)